Disclaimer: I am no expert in potty training. Just a regular-old mom who read lots of articles before officially starting the process of potty training my son. I also didn’t reinvent the wheel here. My process isn’t new or special — just a combination of various methods I read about and adapted to fit the needs of our family and my particular child. Here is an extremely similar approach as to what I took: Potty Training in Three Days or Less. As with all other types of parenting “advice”, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. That being said, I hope my personal experience and some of the tips I share will helpful in your journey.
As soon as my son turned two (November 2013) I knew the inevitable was coming: potty training. I wasn’t quite sure when or how I would start but at age two the concept was fresh in my mind and I started watching for signs that he was ready. I even took out his potty and put him in underwear a few times before officially starting our training just to see if I could gather whether he was ready. While we had a couple “lucky” situations of him going on the potty, I knew they were just coincidences. When I put him in underwear, he would almost always have an accident and didn’t seem to care the slightest.
Fast forward to April of last year when my family relocated from New York to Wisconsin. My son was exactly 29 months old and I knew I was going to potty train him around this time. I know what you might be thinking: probably not the best time to potty train with all of the other adjustments going on. And you are probably right. But he was finally starting to show signs of readiness. Not necessarily a desire to potty train but he finally seemed to understand the concept and could communicate well enough with me that I made the decision to go for it. Communication was the main thing for me. I needed him to be able to tell me when he had to which he was finally able to do. But I did wait a few weeks until we were fully adjusted to our new home and than began the official process of potty training. Here is a great article from Baby Center on assessing potty training readiness.
1) Pick a Start Date: I picked a start date and wrote it on the calendar. This was for my sake as much as my son’s sake. I wanted a physical time that the process was kicking off. Mentally I didn’t leave much room for “trying” it out. I had it in my mind that he could do it and was prepared to see him through even if it got a little tough. I picked a Wednesday in late April. Part of the process I employed was to stay relatively close to the house for a few days. Wednesday seemed to be a good idea so by the weekend we could hopefully venture out a bit (I am a stay-at-home mom right now so this worked fine for us. However, if you work you might want to pick a weekend or a three-day weekend to start).
2) Gather Supplies: We already had a little potty so I moved that into our downstairs bathroom next to the “big” potty. I also purchased a little step stool for hand washing and a little foldable potty seat that fit in my diaper bag for when we were out in public. I also made sure we had a nice space heater near our main living space (more on that in a second) for our training days. I also went to the grocery store a few days before our training started and made sure I had plenty of fluids (I bought some special new juices as a treat) and watermelon. *Note: I didn’t use treats as incentives for going on the potty. There is nothing wrong with treats I just decided it wasn’t necessary for us. Also, I didn’t worry about buying underwear until a little farther into the process (more on this below).
3) Talk it Up: Two days before we started our training I started telling my son that we were beginning potty training on Wednesday. I’m not sure he had a clue what I was talking about but I made a huge deal of it and talked it up all the time. I kept telling him that on Wednesday when he woke up the diapers would be gone and he would be going on the big boy potty. The more excited I got the more excited he got. I tried to make it an extremely fun and positive “thing” we would be starting Wednesday morning. That type of encouragement seems to work well with my son so I played it up the best I could.
1) The Kickoff: That Wednesday morning my son woke up knowing he was going to start “potty training.” I showed him his diaper drawer and that all of the diapers were gone (and that they were only for babies now, e.g. his little brother). It was still cold here in Wisconsin in late April so I turned on the space heater in our living room/kitchen area to make sure it was nice and toasty. I then stripped my son down to just a long-sleeve t-shirt and socks. He doesn’t mind being naked so this was a non-issue. I know this is not the first choice for many people but in my personal experience it was key. My son had worn underwear plenty of times and had no problem whatsoever wetting them without thinking twice. The underwear in my opinion were not much different to him than the diaper. For us naked was key. I tried to minimize the fact he was naked as much as possible and he didn’t seem to care at all.
2) Juicing Up: With breakfast I made sure my son had a little extra fluids to encourage the urge to pee. I also gave him some watermelon (which he loves). Within a short period of time I could tell by his little dance moves that he had to pee. I immediately brought him into the potty and set him on the toilet. He may have missed a bit but not by much. I made a huge deal that he went on the potty, celebrated, danced, sung, etc. and he loved my reaction. It then became a fun game we played about 100 more times that day. Early on in potty training my son went to the bathroom a million times. I swear whenever the slightest urge came he ran in there. That was fine with me. Just part of the learning process. But be prepared because especially that first day it was like a full-time job!
3) Continuing with the Day: So day 1 continued on like that with several trips to the bathroom. It really was a full-time job to keep talking about it and encouraging him not to forget to go. Some call it a potty training bootcamp and I can see why. He remained naked from the waist down and we stayed inside the house most of the day. There were a few small accidents (#1) but nothing significant. Mostly just small misses on the way to the bathroom. He picked it up extremely quickly and we didn’t look back. We did use some stickers on the fridge and stuff but no other treats.
The only thing we didn’t tackle on day 1 was going #2. It never came up so I was prepared for it on our second day. As for naps and nighttime, we continued to use pull-ups for these times. We still do several months later. There are many nights he is completely dry but I still use them for now. When he gets a little older we will tackle this issue.
1) Continuing the Course: Day 2 continued on extremely successful. By this point my son completely had going #1 down. He would go by himself (albeit extremely frequently) and it was a non-issue. He loved all of the praise and affirmation he was getting too. I could tell he was extremely proud of himself which was adorable to watch. He remained naked from the waist down and it didn’t seem to bother him at all.
2) Dealing with Challenges: Because we hadn’t dealt with going #2 on our first day of potty training, I was fully expecting it to be an issue on day 2. And I was correct. Starting mid-monring a small breakdown ensued because my son had to go. He was asking for a diaper to go #2. It started off pretty minor but continued for some time. I kept gently but confidently telling him he was a big boy and that he didn’t need a diaper anymore, they were all gone and that he could go on the potty. It escalated a bit but I was pretty convinced that if I could tough it out and we could overcome this hurdle it would be smooth sailing. Through some tears I was able to get him on to the potty just in time for him to go #2. After that we were completely home-free. There was not one issue again about going #2. I know this may be a hard thing for some to overcome and I totally respect that. You have to do what is best for your child. For me, I believe staying strong and not wavering helped my son power through this momentary challenge. I was afraid I was going to send mixed signals if I changed course or gave in to his request for a diaper. After that he never asked for a diaper again.
3) Leaving the House: On the second day we ventured out of the house but only for a quick trip to the store. I did this on purpose. I didn’t want to push my son too long. I put him on the potty right before we left and as soon as got to the store. We talked a lot about how he had to tell me if he needed to go. I also didn’t put underwear or a diaper on him. He wore his pants with nothing underneath (see tip #3 for more on this).
After day 2 I officially considered my son potty trained. He never looked back and I couldn’t have been happier with how easy the first two days went.
Here are a few tips I have picked up over the past few months since our initial training:
1) Always make your child go to the bathroom the last second before you leave the house. Even if they say they don’t have to go, put them on the potty. They almost always have to go and this is a good routine to get into.
2) As soon as you get to your destination, scope out the bathroom situation. Find the nearest option and ask your child if they have to go. In the early days, when the urge comes there may not be a lot of time to get to the bathroom so be ready to move as quick as possible. This is also true for the length of your car trips. Try to be mindful in the early days that your child most likely can’t hold it for two hours (although my son surprised us with how long he went without going at Brat Fest last years – 2+ hours)! Just make sure you are mindful of when your child recently went and how you can assist them quickly if they need to go.
3) This may be a bit undesirable for some but we continued with the naked approach for several weeks after he was officially trained. This meant a few things. First, in our house he was naked. As soon as we got home from doing errands or whatnot, I would strip him down. Although he was fully potty trained, being naked helped remind him to go. Underwear or even pants would make him forget to go, especially in those early weeks. In fact, that was the ONLY time during our adventures in potty training when he had an accident or two: at home when I forgot to take his pants off. This doesn’t have to continue forever (obviously) but I would recommend it for at least a few weeks after the initial training. He also was completely naked (except for pants) whenever we left the house for the first few months. Yep you read that right – months. I didn’t put underwear on him for two months. And it worked very well for him. We never (yep never) had an accident in public.
4) Although we were fortunate not to have any accidents while out in public, I always carried an extra pair of pants with me just in case.
5) You may be wondering how this would ever work with your schedule. Maybe you are a working parent and your child goes to daycare. Although I can’t speak from personal experience, I have spoke to other parents who have employed the same techniques with their children who either attend daycare or preschool. The teachers and caregivers are likely very willing to work with you and to follow your approach the best they can. Although being naked all day at daycare may not work, in your home it can and maybe no underwear while at school for the first month will work. We take our son to church on Sundays and put him in the nursery. I simply explained what I was doing to the teacher and asked for her help. She continued exactly as I had and he never had an accident, even in the early days.
6) Minimize accidents. I can only count on one hand the number of times my son had accidents. And I attribute them all to just getting distracted by what he was doing and forgetting. I tried to really downplay any mistakes, whisk him to the bathroom and tell him very matter-of-factly no big deal but we go on the potty.
Next up in our adventures in potty training is this little guy. He seems ready, doesn’t he? I will give him a few more months!